A proposed amendment to the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct that prohibits attorneys from having sex with clients was one of the hottest topics during a public hearing on the proposals yesterday in Houston. Houston attorney Rich Robins said the proposed amendment to Rule 1.13 could make lawyers susceptible to grievances if a client dissatisfied with a settlement makes a false accusation. Robins said that he “doesn’t engage in it,” but he doesn’t think there should be a disciplinary rule banning sex with clients. “If it’s consensual, what’s wrong with it?” Robins asked during the State Bar of Texas hearing, which was attended by about 50 people, mostly lawyers. Tom Watkins, chairman of the Supreme Court task force that developed the proposed amendments to the disciplinary rules, said the intent of the no-sex rule is to prevent lawyers from giving advice to a “paramour.” Watkins, a partner in Brown McCarroll in Austin, said of the rule, “I think it ought to be in there.” He also noted that some Texas lawyers have complained that the proposed rule isn’t strong enough. Last month more than a dozen women lawyers argued just that in an e-mail and urged the Texas Supreme Court and the State Bar of Texas to adopt a stronger rule. Another amendment that came in for some criticism at the hearing is proposed Rule 1.05, which calls for a lawyer to disclose confidential information if it clearly establishes "that a client is likely to commit a criminal or fraudulent act that is likely to result in death or substantial bodily harm to a person.” Thomas Pickford, a partner in Hoover Slovacek in Houston, said the word “substantial” should be removed on the ground that sanctioning any form of bodily injury is not appropriate. Regarding another proposed change, Charles "Chuck" Herring Jr., a partner in Herring & Irwin in Austin, asked Watkins if amendments to Rule 1.07 that deal with conflicts of interest are intended to apply conflicts checks to contract lawyers working for a firm. Watkins said the rule would apply to contract lawyers. The hearing in Houston yesterday was the third of nine scheduled prior to Oct. 1, when the Bar’s board of directors will consider the amendments.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys